Star Lake, Michigan. Just like the name implies, it's a city built around a lake shaped like a star. And yeah, it's nowhere near as bad as you'd think a city in a state that actually has a town named Hell would be. But, it's still got a pretty bad crime problem. My dad says it's because the police department, which is already pretty small, doesn't have much in the way of funding, although the same goes for most of the city. The school system isn't much better. Oh sure, they're well-equipped and staffed, but there's a serious problem with disciplining the students. So it's not hard to tell why most people avoid living here, and most people don't even know it's on the map. Trouble is, no matter how crummy a town can be, there'll always be people who don't have much a choice but to live where they can, and...well, here we are.
It's not all that bad, though. At least I have a roof over my head...Well, USUALLY, anyway, but I'll get to that later. Point is, I always try to appreciate that. In fact, I remember, the day my whole life went completely crazy, I was laying in bed, flat on my back, and just staring up at the ceiling for what couldn't have been any less than a half an hour. I wasn't looking at anything particular, and I knew I had to get up, but I just couldn't look any other direction, and I couldn't make myself get up...without a little verbal support, anyway.
"CASSANDRA LINDA DOYLE, GET YOUR BUTT OUTTA BED!" I heard my dad yell from the kitchen. "You're gonna be late for school!"
Oh yeah, that's my name, by the way. You can just call me Cassie, though. But yeah, that was enough to get me to bolt out of bed and jog down the hall. Before I got to the kitchen, though, I followed my usual morning routine of stopping short of Mom's picture in the middle of the hallway and saying good morning to her. I know, it sounds dumb, but...I just don't want to forget her, even if she ran out when I was five.
"Morning, Dad!" I greeted as I practically flew into the kitchen and sat my butt down in a chair.
"You're lucky I was up to start your breakfast for you," Dad grumbled, pouring me a glass of orange juice. "What was taking you so long, anyway?"
"...I dunno, I think I had a weird dream or something," I lied. Well, I think I lied, anyway. I couldn't really remember what I dreamed about before I woke up, but whatever it was, it probably weirded me out something bad. I mean, why else would I spend so long just looking at the ceiling?
"Here," Dad said, sitting a plate with some waffles in front of me before leaning back in his own chair and doing crossword puzzles. "Eat up, you don't wanna miss your bus."
I rolled my eyes at the crossword puzzles, my glance eventually falling on the small shrine to Dad's old detective job off to the side of the room. Like I said, the police department in Star Lake is small and underfunded, so my dad actually worked as a private investigator to try and help people out. Apparently, that's how he met my mom: She was a client of his, and while you always hear about hard-boiled detectives not getting tied down or getting too emotionally attached to their clients...well, my dad was more half-boiled than anything. But he was good at his job. What sucks is that, after Mom ran out, he just couldn't get himself back in his old groove. Pretty sure that's where his near-addiction to crossword puzzles started: It gave him something to solve.
"So, you're coming straight home after school, right?" Dad asked while I chowed down on my waffles.
I took a gulp, not wanting to talk with my mouth full. "Yeah, don't have anything planned. Except finishing that book you lent me."
Dad smirked a little. The book in question was one of his favourite detective stories, The Big Sleep. And don't look at me like that, I know I'm only 16, but I'm mature for my age. And yeah, I don't know whether it's because of my own tastes, or because of Dad's career, but I've pretty much been hooked on detective stories ever since I could read. I DO know, though, that this always made Dad happy. I wonder if he always wanted me to turn out to become a detective when I grew up, to follow in the family business?
"Crap, your bus will be here in like five minutes!" Dad exclaimed after glancing down at his watch. "You'd better hurry up!"
"Oh, right!" I replied, shoveling down the rest of my waffles before finishing off my juice. "Okay, I better get going!"
"Whoa, hang on, aren't you forgetting something?!" Dad demanded as I got out of my chair and grabbed my book bag.
"Don't think so!" I yelled back, grabbing hold of the door knob. "Why, what were you thinking of?!"
"Well...your clothes, for starters," Dad pointed out as I opened the door.
I blushed hard, looking down at myself. Sure enough, I was in my pajamas. And when I say pajamas, I actually mean straight up, fuzzy, purple pajamas. Bunny slippers included, of course. And yes, there WERE a number of neighbours of mine, including other students from my school, out on their daily routines when all of this went down, and just happened to be in the prime position to see me dressed like that. Y'know, it's moments like these that make me wish I could just crawl under my sheets and never return until all memory of me has faded from the public mind.
Five minutes later, I was back outside, now wearing my school uniform. And yes, we have those at my school, and I hate them. Well, okay, I hate WEARING them. Especially since whoever designed them had no sense of modesty. One strong breeze, and I'm Marilyn Monroe. Seeing some of the other girls wearing them, though? Kinda makes it worth the experience, especially one girl in particular that I'll get to soon enough.
Anyway, after a half-hour long bus ride, which did in fact include, among other things, spit balls to the side of my head, I was getting off in front of Maria J. Hanson Memorial High School. Maria Hanson was actually a teacher, and a very hands-on architect. Dad says that she did a lot of the work when it came to building up Star Lake. There's even a statue of her in front of the school, holding a hammer in one hand and a star in the other.
My school day pretty much went like normal from that point on. Math, creative writing, science, and eventually, before I knew it, it was lunch time...and I was picking more spit balls out of my blonde hair. Yeah, that's a common thing for me. My classmates, the girls in particular, HATE me and want to see me suffer as much as humanly possible. The ringleader of these monsters among young women was Charlotte Sampson, a better-than-thou glamazon who was beloved by all who wanted to be popular in high school, and she would gladly step on the backs and necks of anyone she didn't care for. And somehow, she managed to find herself in the majority of my classes, my only reprieve being creative writing. We've met. Repeatedly. Spit balls, common and annoying as they are, are far removed from the worst she's ever done to me, like the time she rigged my locker with a device that shot urine (likely supplied by herself) into my face.
So why, you may ask, does Charlotte hate me? It's very simple: She's a homophobe. Have I mentioned I like girls? If I haven't, allow me to correct that: I like girls. And ever since she has found out about this, she has made it her goal to make my life a living hell. She has even told me that she will continue to do so until I renounce the desire to ever date a girl ever again, at which point she will hook me up with her brother who will, and I quote, 'satisfy me to the point of never wanting to look at another girl for the rest of my life'. Class act, that Charlotte Sampson.
Anyway, it was lunch time, and that is my favourite time of the day in high school. Not because of food, mind you, although I can safely say that the cafeteria food is actually one of the finer parts of the school. No, it's who I got to see during lunch. And, sure enough, as I made my way into the library, there she was: Olette Runnels, sitting at a table and reading comic books.
What can I even say about Olette? She's perfect. Perfect in every way. She's pretty, smart, considerate, compassionate, great with computers, loves stories about heroes, and unless you've done something specifically to wrong her or the people she cares about, she doesn't really have any kind of ill will toward anyone. Though, if you do wrong her friends and loved ones, she will treat you like the devil on Earth. She was my best friend in preschool. She needed a green crayon for her drawing, and I needed a purple one. We've been inseparable ever since. Then, in middle school, we both came out to each other, and the next thing you know, we're dating. And our school uniform on her? At the risk of sounding like a pervert, OH MY GOD.
"Hey O," I greeted as I walked up to the table.
Olette looked up and smiled a smile that I swear could melt the hearts of anyone who looked upon it. "Hey sweetie. How are ya?"
"Eh, spit balls notwithstanding, fine," I replied, sitting down next to her as I picked out the last of the spit balls from my hair.
"...Charlotte?" Olette asked, adjusting her glasses.
"Yyyup," I answered. "But at least it's not the urine trap again."
"I swear, if she ever pulls something like that again, I'm gonna punch her lights out," Olette growled.
I smiled, pulling Olette into a tight hug once I was sure no one was looking. "Okay, as sweet as that is, O, I wouldn't want you to get hauled into detention or get suspended for me."
"It'd be worth it, just saying," Olette said with a shrug. "So, we doing homework together after school at your place?"
"Olette, your style of dates is kind of odd," I replied with a giggle. "And I can't. I GOTTA finish The Big Sleep tonight, or I'm NEVER gonna finish it."
Olette snorted, nuzzling my shoulder. "You're lucky your detective otaku mode is really adorable."
I grinned, giving Olette a quick kiss on the temple. "So, how are your comics going?"
"Not so great," Olette admitted, gathering her things into her book bag as we got up from the table. "I mean, the stories are as engaging as ever, but honestly, I just want something new. I want new heroes, especially heroines who aren't a male hero's love interest, sidekick, or offshoot."
I rolled my eyes, giggling. As much as Olette can talk about my 'detective otaku mode', she's every bit as bad when it comes to superhero comics. Especially the ones that star women in the leading role. Don't get me wrong, I respect her choice of fiction, and I can definitely see why stories like that would be attractive to someone. Still, if she was gonna tease me for my detective stories...
"Oh, surely you don't suggest to toss me aside for some sexy, tights-clad superheroine that can break asteroids and hearts?" I asked, gasping over-dramatically as we exited the library and headed out to a nearby tree in front of the school, one of our favourite places to just sit and hang out.
O giggled, giving a playful shove to my shoulder. "Hey, I'm allowed to fantasize. Although frankly, if I was gonna do ANYTHING, it'd be putting YOU in those tights."
I blushed hard. "Well, as appealing an flattering as that is, I wouldn't wanna give you any temptation to neglect our whole 'not until we're 18' agreement."
"Like you don't try to tease and taunt me with that enough already?" Olette countered.
"Aw, look at the lovey-dovey dyke dorks!" a voice mocked from a few feet away from us, my blood turning cold at the sound of it.
We turned to face the source of the voice, and yup, sure enough, there she was: Charlotte, along with a few members of her ragtag group of evil minions. Honestly, she kind of looked ridiculous, posed with her hands on her hips and her chest puffed out, trying to look as intimidating as possible. Really, all I could think was 'Yeah, we know you have big boobs, Sampson. It's God's way of compensating for your crappy attitude'. Still, I knew better than to try and engage her. Olette, however...well, remember what I said about people treating her and her friends badly?
Olette's nostrils flared as she turned to face Charlotte angrily. "What'd you call us?!"
"Please, EVERYBODY knows you two suck face," Charlotte taunted. "Can't find any boys, so you just decided to come out of the closet together?"
"Well, you know how it is: There's just no choice but to turn lesbo when all the guys are taken by the man eaters," Olette retorted, at which point my eye started to twitch in shock. "Which reminds me, how ARE you sleeping nowa-"
"SAY THAT AGAIN!" Charlotte screeched, picking up and throwing dirt in Olette's face. "Say it again, I dare you! I'll curb-stomp your head off!"
I grabbed hold of Olette, helping her get the dirt from her eyes. This was getting out of control. Yeah, I was ticked, no question about it. But now there was a group of students starting to form a ring around us, the tell-tale sign that a fight's about to break out, and all I wanted to do was to get O out of there before things got any worse.
"Forget it, Charlotte, we're not fighting you!" I yelled.
"Why?" Charlotte demanded. "Scared I'll tear all that pretty blonde hair out of your head?"
I just scoffed in disgust, turning away with Olette. Like I said, all I wanted was to get her out of that situation. Unfortunately, turning our backs on Charlotte may have been a bad move. I can't say for sure what it was, but I felt something slam into the back of my legs, just hard enough to send me to the ground and poor Olette with me. I looked up, groaning in pain, as Charlotte stood over me, her entourage laughing at us.
"You know, I haven't forgotten the deal I offered," Charlotte pointed out as I started to get up onto my hands and knees. "We can forget this ever happened, as long as you tell me right now that you're not gay and that you'll never, EVER talk to Olette Runnels ever again. Hell, I'll even hook you up with that brother of mine I mentioned."
I don't know exactly what I was thinking to say what I said next, but...well, let's just say that the rest of my life might've gone VERY differently if I hadn't said it. "...Sorry, but he must suck at the dating game if he needs YOU to be his pimp."
THAT did it. At that point, Charlotte, who up until now had her friends on her side was now on the receiving end of laughter, clenched her hands so tight I thought blood would start leaking from her palms. Her eyes filled with anger and the need for dominance. But me? I just remember glaring back with a look of disgust. Not even hate, really. More like pity. And honestly, I think that just made her angrier, which is why she reeled one leg back and proceeded to swing it as hard as she could directly at my ribs, and there is no doubt, not one, in my mind that she had the intent to completely shatter my ribs.
...That did not happen, however. Instead, to my shock, and to the shock of Olette, Charlotte's friends, and all of the other students standing around watching this unfold, Charlotte's leg connected to my side and then, when I should have been the one in extreme pain, she was the one to fall to the ground, clutching her leg and screaming bloody murder. I looked at her, as Olette and I finally managed to help each other to our feet, as tears streamed down Charlotte's face and various obscenities flew from her mouth, like she'd been shot in the leg.
"Honey, are you okay?" Olette asked as we backed off, just as a pair of teachers made their way to the group.
I didn't know what to say at that point. I just remembered looking down at where she'd connected with that kick, and feeling it with my hand. There was no pain whatsoever. In fact, I barely felt anything at all when she kicked me. It was like someone had thrown a piece of paper at me. The spit balls from earlier hurt worse than that kick, and that kick would've probably been strong enough to put her on the school football team's starring line-up. All I could think of at that point was the same sentence over and over, repeating itself in my head.
What in the frickin' hell just happened...?